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Jews in America: The History of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

Federations have been part of American Jewish community life for over a century. As early as the 1880s, Jewish communities realized that one organization could raise funds more efficiently than dozens of agencies competing for community support.

Organized fundraising in the Washington Jewish community began in 1925, when the Jewish Welfare Association was founded. Before then, many agencies had been raising funds and providing services to Jewish Washington on their own. The Jewish Welfare Association drew these agencies into an organized group, the precursor of today's federated approach.

The national United Jewish Appeal was born in 1939 as a merger of the United Palestine Appeal and the fundraising arm of the Joint Distribution Committee, which in the aftermath of World War I, had been meeting many of the social service needs of European Jewry. The Jewish Welfare Association became the Washington arm of the United Jewish Appeal. The new organization focused primarily on the needs of Jews in Europe and in what was then Palestine. Only a small portion of the money raised supported local agencies.

As Washington Jewry grew, so did the needs of the community, and more agencies opened to meet those needs. By 1976, it was obvious that the time had come for an organized fundraising effort to support local agencies. The local United Jewish Appeal expanded its mandate and became UJA Federation of Greater Washington, the formal coordinator of a community-wide campaign for local beneficiary agencies as well as for Israel and overseas.

In 1999, UJA Federation became The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, more accurately reflecting its broad range of commitments worldwide and in the Greater Washington Jewish community.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has remained focused on creating a vibrant and purposeful Jewish community through caring for those in need, deepening engagement in Jewish life, and strengthening the bonds among Jews in the Washington area, in Israel, and around the world. The Federation mobilizes community builders and organizations to identify and develop solutions to community’s greatest needs. The Federation’s unique perspective, reach, and relationships within the community empower the organization to meet both individual and collective needs, now and for the future. The Federation’s vantage point from the nation’s capital gives it the vision to address the concerns of the Jewish people across the country and around the world.

The Federation aims to help the community build more robust ways to connect people with each other and to deepen their connections to Judaism and the Jewish community. In partnership with 36 local, 12 national, four international agencies –including the Jewish Agency for Israel and the JDC – and 90 synagogues and chavurot, hundreds of programs and services are accessible and available to more than 300,000 Jewish people living across 1,400 square miles in D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virgina.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is one of 146 Federations and 300 communities that make up The Jewish Federations of North America, which is committed to protecting and enhancing the well-being of Jews worldwide through meaningful contributions to community, Israel, and civil society.

Sources: The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington